Anthony Walker will call most plays for the Cleveland Browns defense, but will not play every down.
Current buzz from Berea is that the Cleveland Browns want newly acquired Anthony Walker, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, to call plays for the defense. Several reporters have taken that to mean that Walker will play essentially every play so that he can call all the plays for the defense.
Come on folks, snap out of it. The Browns have other situational linebackers who are going to rotate like they did last year. It is impossible to believe that Walker can play every down.
Cleveland usually plays only two linebackers in a 4-2-5 alignment. If you play Walker on every down, there are at least six players that will split time in a single position.
They include Sione Takitaki, the former second-round pick from Brigham Young, who Pro Football Focus grades as the second-highest linebacker in the NFL versus the run; Mack Wilson, the third-year player from the Alabama Crimson Tide who has started 22 games for the Browns; Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith, Jacob Phillips, who is a card-carrying member of the Louisiana State University-Ohio Campus and who started three times last season as a 21-year-old rookie; rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah from Notre Dame, who is a hybrid safety and linebacker, and who is a first-round talent who slid into the second round over the last-minute flap about his heart at Combine, which as ultimately resolved; fellow rookie Tony Fields II from West Virginia University; and Elijah Lee, who has posted 84 NFL tackles in his career.
Do we really think the Browns are going to have all of these guys share one position so Walker can always play the other linebacker spot?
Moreover, just how good is Anthony Walker? He is clearly highly respected by his former coaches and teammates at Indianapolis. In his end-of-the-season press conference, Colts GM Jake Ballard was effusive in his praise for Walker.
"“I have a special relationship with Anthony Walker. Selfless. Team guy. Rare leader. I hope he gets into coaching one day or scouting. Mark my words on this: if Anthony Walker gets into coaching, he will be a head football coach in the National Football League. And if he gets into scouting, he’ll be a general manager. He’s brilliant. He’s absolutely brilliant and he’s made of the right stuff. I know he wants to play more. We’ll see how it works out.” — Jake Ballard, Colts press conference, Jan 14, 2021."
So there’s no doubt he has the head smarts to run the defense for the Browns, though Ballard’s endorsement is not as strong concerning his playing ability. “We’ll see how it works out” doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement. The fact of the matter is that the Colts could have kept him, but the Browns were able to pry him loose by spending the relatively small sum of $3.5 million dollars. So how valuable is he really?
In 2020, Walker’s defensive snaps started to drop off as he began to share time with Bobby Okereke. The table below follows Walker’s and Okereke’s percentages of snaps played from game 11 onward, including one playoff game last season:
Game 11 12 13 14 15 16 playoff
Walker 100% 100% 60% 32% 51% 46% 31%
Okereke: 0% 0% 74% 70% 53% 68% 73%
It could not be more clear that Okereke was replacing Walker at the end of the season. Okereke is younger, faster (4.58 versus 4.65), and cheaper because he is still on his rookie contract.
Walker is good, but not Lawrence Taylor 2.0. Can we tone down the expectations about -20 decibels, please?
Darius Leonard called plays most of the time for the Colts last season, rather than Walker. For the Browns, rookie Jacob Phillips called plays most of the time, and he certainly did not play every down. When he rotated out, the universe did not explode. They were able to keep veterans like Malcolm Smith fresh.
It’s not just one guy who communicates to the defense. They have to recognize the play-action, run-pass option, screen pass, and so on. Each player has to alert his teammates to what he sees. It’s not going to be the case that if Anthony Walker is not present, all verbal communication will cease, like Hunt for Red October.
By rule, the defense is allowed to have three players with radios embedded in their helmets, although only one radio helmet may be used on the field at a time. That’s what the “green dot” on the helmet signifies, that it is equipped with a radio and a speaker. This may be found in the 2021 NFL Rule Book, Rule 5, Article 3:
"“Each offensive and defensive team is permitted no more than one player on the field with a speaker in his helmet. Each team is permitted to have a maximum of three active radio receivers to be used on offense by its quarterbacks, and a maximum of three active radio receivers to be used on defense by players who have been designated as a primary and backup users.”"
When the primary signal-caller (Walker) comes out, the new signal-caller must report to the Umpire. Subsequent changes also have to be reported.
There is great value in having a “coach on the field” even if there are better athletes on the bench. But not every down. What, are you crazy? There is a lot to like about Anthony Walker.
Browns fans should love him. He is going to be a team leader. Smart players help the team win in a number of intangible ways. But let’s not pile on impossible expectations on him, please.
It is an honor to be selected as the primary play-caller on defense, but the Browns have other talented linebackers who are going to get substantial playing time, and Walker is not going to lead the linebackers in defensive snaps.